Why the UK’s oldest brands are still prospering

Being more than 30 years older than their global counterparts on average, British brands must leverage their rich heritage to stay relevant for today’s consumers in the UK and abroad.


Age is a defining characteristic of the UK’s most valuable brands. On average British brands are 100-years-old, compared to their global counterparts at 67 years, according to BrandZ’s first ranking of the UK’s top 50 most valuable brands. 

Many brands in the top 50 are far older than that, such as Lloyds Banking Group which was established in 1765 (16th), Cadbury in 1824 (17th) and Boots in 1849 (34th).

Twentieth century brands such as Mini (33rd) and Burberry (15th) have modernised their image by taking a led on digital and design, says Peter Walshe, BrandZ global strategy director at Kantar Millward Brown, which highlights that heritage is only important if it is relevant for consumers.

READ MORE: The UK’s 50 most valuable brands must innovate to survive globally

Director of brand marketing at British Gas (21st), Margaret Jobling, acknowledges it can be harder for established businesses with legacy systems to transform their internal systems, while new brands can “leapfrog” older players with new technical solutions.

“Therefore the challenge for older brands is, how do you serve customers on their terms in a modern society when you have an infrastructure that’s been built over 200 years? You’ve got to keep challenging your business model,” she explains.

Our heritage gives us credibility and authenticity on the things that we’re doing.

Helen Carroll, Co-op

Established in 1844, the Co-op Group (38th) sees its rich heritage as a distinct brand advantage, but only if it is constantly nurtured.

“Our heritage gives us credibility and authenticity on the things that we’re doing. People want to know that brands are still going to be around,” explains the Co-operative Group’s director of Co-op brand, Helen Carroll.

“At the heart of our proposition is being part of the fabric of the community and that takes many years to build up. Satelliting into the community like some other brands doesn’t have the same kind of authenticity. But heritage is only an advantage if you don’t continually extract from it and you’re constantly imputing into it.”

At the other end of the spectrum EE (31st) is the youngest brand on the list, established in 2010, followed by Virgin Media in 2006 (13th), Three in 2003 (14th) and O2 in 2002 (10th). The fact that a relatively young brand like Asos, founded in 2000, could come two spots behind Next at 29th is of particular note.

“With Asos it’s not about being everything for everybody, it’s about specialising enough, but still having a wide enough market that you can scale and create reasonable value,” says Walshe.

“The other thing is Asos doesn’t respect borders and with Brexit happening that’s absolutely vital.”

READ MORE: The UK brands with the most potential for future growth

Overseas potential

Whereas in brand health terms younger brands score highest on the key metrics – purpose, innovation, communication, experience, love – businesses established prior to 1960 make 58% of their revenue overseas, compared to 48% of companies founded post-1960. A perfect example is Lipton, which was established in 1890 and sells 95% of its products overseas.


The most valuable British brands also have the biggest markets overseas. Some 63% of revenue generated by the top 10 comes from overseas, compared to 37% generated by the bottom 10 companies.

“It’s interesting as 40% of the value of the UK top 50 brands is not earned in the UK. The importance of markets outside the UK is absolutely vital. Brand is one of the best ways you can go across borders,” says Walshe.

“If the brand is strong it’s got a much better chance of weathering what undoubtedly are going to be stormy waters in the next five to 10 years.”

International is a very important part of the business for Betfair (48th), which has a presence in multiple territories across Europe including Spain, Italy, Romania, Denmark and Sweden.

“We’re absolutely a challenger brand in a lot of those countries,” explains Betfair brand director, Stephen Mault.

“There’s huge opportunities for us to grow the business by creating market share across the international territories. However, it’s definitely very important to localise, I don’t think you can just go over to other countries and expect that your tone of voice and your advertising is going to work.”



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